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Miss Jessie Brebner 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE 

ROBERT BURNS 

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 




LORD ROSEBERY. 



WALLACE 



BURNS 



STEVENSON 



APPRECIATIONS 
LORD ROSE'BERY. 



STIRLING 
ENEAS MAC KAY, 43 MURRAY PLACE 

1905 



I? 

597146 

S.Q>- II. 54 



Printed at the 
Stirling Observer Office. 



CONTENTS. 



PAGE. 

Sir William Wallace, 9 

Robert Burns, 27 

Robert Louis Stevenson, - - - -67 



With one exception, the speeches are reproduced 

from the reports of the "Glasgow Herald," 

by permission of the Editor. 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



FACING 
PAGE 

Statue of Sir William Wallace, ... 9 

Battle of Stirling Bridge, from Painting, - 12 

National Wallace Monument, - - - 16 

Do. Do. Do., - 20 

Bust of Robert Burns, 27 

Globe Tavern, Dumfries, - - - - 40 

House where Burns Died, - - - - 48 

Mausoleum, Dumfries, 56 

Portrait, Robert Louis Stevenson, - - 67 

Memorial, Do. Do., - - 72 







r^gr^ 








- ■ ^ 





STATUE OF SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 
National Wallace Monument, Stirling. 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 

Stirling, September 13, 1897. 

WOULD gladly have exchanged toasts 
* with either of the distinguished friends who 
have preceded me on the list, more especially 
since you, sir, have suddenly announced that I 
am expected not so much to propose a toast as 
to deliver a historical address. I confess that I 
have come here more or less prepared, or rather 
more or less unprepared, to propose a toast ; 
but if I had known that I was expected to 
deliver a historical address I should have 
claimed to exchange with at least one of my 
friends. I do not care which of the Balfours I 
had been chosen to fill the place of, whether it 
had been my noble friend on my left (Lord 
Balfour of Burleigh) or my right hon. friend on 
my right (Mr. J. B. Balfour) ; but I would rather 
have responded for any toast, or proposed any 



12 SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 

toast, than have come here under the hypothesis 
that I was to deliver a historical address on so 
thorny a subject as Sir William Wallace. 

I humbly submit that even to propose his 
memory is a very perilous task. There are, I 
think, two classes of my fellow-countrymen who 
would gladly be in the position in which I find 
myself. One is the class of minute archaeological 
historians who would find a savage, an almost 
devilish delight in winnowing the true from the 
false in the legends that surround Sir William 
Wallace, and in distinguishing all that is 
legendary from the few golden facts which 
remain. But I think that you will agree with 
me that this would not be an occasion for such 
a discourse, and were it the occasion I am not 
the man. 

After all, these points are not always of 
very first-rate importance. There is however, 
one to which I will allude. It is sometimes, 
I believe, the subject of controversy, as to 
whether Wallace was a Scotsman at all. I 
regard that as a point of the most infinitesimal 
importance. It may be a subject of interest to 
many to know what is the birthplace or the 
district in which a person is brought up when that 




BATTLE OF STIRLING BRIDGE. 
From painting in Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 13 

person has achieved a certain eminence. But 
there are greater figures than these, who embody 
and absorb a nation, and whom a nation has 
absorbed and embodied, but whose exact place 
of birth is a matter of no importance at all. We 
all know that Catherine the Second of Russia 
was a German Princess. We all know that 
the first Napoleon was of Italian origin and 
born in Corsica. But I do not suppose there 
is anybody who has read a page of history 
who will deny that Catherine is one of the 
greatest of Russians, and that Napoleon is 
incomparably the greatest of Frenchmen. 

Then there is another class who would have 
rejoiced to fill my place, but I am not sure either 

that they would have been the right persons I 

mean the class of passionate and indiscriminating 
patriots, to whom everything true or false 
connected with the memory of a national hero is 
dear, and who, without the slightest effort or 
stress of deglutition, can swallow every legend 
and every tradition that is associated with their 
favourite hero. Sir, those patriots would soar 
into heights to which I cannot aspire, and I 
venture to think that in so soaring they are not 
always performing a wise or patriotic task ; 



14 SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 

because I firmly believe that the stronger and 
the broader and the safer the base for your 
enthusiasm, the better it is for that enthusiasm ; 
and that exaggeration, in matters of enthusiasm, 
is apt to lead to ridicule and to reaction. 

Sir, the authentic and received facts about Sir 
William Wallace are indeed extremely few. But 
this, in my judgment — and I hope you will accept 
that judgment — so far from diminishing the merit 
of that great man, seems to me a conclusive proof 
of his greatness. That with so small a substratum 
of historical event he should have left so great an 
impression upon his countrymen would in itself 
prove him to be one of the greatest of Scotsmen. 

But the facts, whether few or many, are 
thunderbolts in themselves. The first is his own 
appearance — his magical, portentous, meteorical, 
providential appearance in the midst of the ruin, 
the suffering, and the disaster of his country. 
Fordun, the historian, describes it in words 
which are better than any I can use. "The 
same year," says Fordun, "William Wallace 
lifted up his head from his den, as it were." 
He came, I say, as a portent or a meteor in the 
distracted condition of Scotland. The next 
salient fact in his career is this — the great battle 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 15 

of Stirling-, which we commemorate to-day in 
which he repulsed, with very inadequate means 
the overwhelming forces of the English. Then 
there comes his appointment as Guardian or 
Protector of Scotland. Then there comes the 
battle of Falkirk, which might, and we believe 
would, have been a victory had not the desertion 
at a critical moment of his cavalry, led by the 
Scottish nobles who were associated with him 
decided the fortune of the day. That is the only 
connection I can find for my noble friend Lord 
Balfour between Wallace and the House of Lords 
-and I thmk, under the circumstances, he was 
wise to avoid the subject. Then, disgusted with 
this treachery, Wallace resigns the guardianship 
and the government of Scotland. The words 
m which Fordun recalls his resignation are so 
significant that I will venture once more to 
quote that historian :— 

" But after the aforesaid victory which was 
vouchsafed to the enemy through the treachery 
ot Scots, the aforesaid William Wallace 
perceiving by this and other strong proofs the 
glaring wickedness of the Comyns and their 
abettors, chose rather to serve with the crowd 
than be set over them, to their ruin and the 



16 SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 

grievous wasting- of the people ; so not long 
after the battle of Falkirk at the Water of 
Forth, he of his own accord resigned the office 
or charge which he held of guardian." 
Then he disappears into France for a few years. 
Then he comes back into Scotland, is captured, 
as some say, by treachery again, and is 
condemned to a cruel and shameful death in 
London, almost exactly eight years after the 
crowning victory of Stirling Bridge. 

Now, gentlemen, these are the great and salient 
facts of Wallace's history, and they are so few 
that we may well wonder how so short a record 
has so powerfully impressed the imaginations of 
mankind. But, I think the causes are not very 
far to seek. The first I will mention is the 
least of them all. It is his biographer, Blind 
Harry. I believe that Blind Harry's record is 
now generally condemned as apocryphal and 
legendary, but this decision of historical criticism 
comes too late to overtake the impression made 
upon mankind. Dr. Moir, his most recent editor, 
says of his History that it has passed through 
more editions than any other Scottish book 
before the times of Burns and of Scott — that it 
was the book, next to the Bible, most frequently 




NATIONAL WALLACE MONUMENT, STIRLING. 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 17 

found in Scottish households. Burns tells us 
that it poured a Scottish prejudice into his veins 
"which will boil there till the floodgates of life 
shut in eternal rest." And we know in his 
famous lyric how that impression was reproduced. 
Well, no one can, I think, exaggerate the effect 
of such a leaven as this upon our national life. 
Nothing, however destructive the criticism may 
be, can now obliterate the impression that it has 
caused. A hero may die unknown and un- 
honoured without a biographer. Many a hero 
does. And therefore the memory of Wallace, 
great in itself as it may be, does owe a 
considerable debt to the imaginative and 
vivacious chronicler of his deeds. 

Well, the next circumstance to which I would 
assign the impression left by Wallace is 
this, that the cause he headed was a great 
popular cause. The natural leaders of the 
people had either failed them, or betrayed 
them, or forsaken them, and so fierce were the 
internal divisions that raged between the leaders 
of the people that one of them, Sir Richard 
Lundin, went over to Edward, justifying his 
defection by the declaration, " I will remain no 
longer of a party that is at variance with itself." 

B 



18 SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 

The people turned to the new man with a 
new hope and a new expectation ; and as he 
was deserted by the aristocracy and the priest- 
hood, he became essentially the man of the 
people. 

But, Mr. Provost, there is a simpler reason 
than either of those which I have given why 
the memory of Wallace is so green among us. 
It is simply this that he was a great man. He 
was one of those men who appear with a single 
stamp of their foot to leave their impress upon 
history, as the footprint which startled Crusoe 
remains eternal on the field of romance. No 
man but a great man could have so roused and 
concentrated the people of Scotland ; no man 
but a great man could have been the centre 
round which the legends of Blind Harry 
clustered and remained. Why, sir, what does 
Lord Hailes say of Henry II. ? We may adopt 
the same words, I think, in speaking of Wallace. 
He says — but with a different intention — " I am 
afraid that no Scotsman can draw his character 
with impartiality." But if any Scotsman can 
draw the character of Wallace with impartiality, 
it is our historian, John Hill Burton. John 
Hill Burton had many merits as a historian. 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. L9 

He was not passionate, he was not enthusiastic, 
he was not even dramatic enough for most of 
us. But, then, when we cite him as a witness, 
he has this incalculable advantage that he is 
perfectly cold and dispassionate. What does 
he say of Wallace after examining minutely into 
his career? He says — "He was a man of 
vast political and military genius." Well, 
I suspect that we need look very little 
into the career of Wallace to justify that 
encomium. That he should have leaped into 
the supreme power in Scotland at a single 
bound, that he should have overthrown the 
overwhelming armaments of England with the 
very imperfect means at his disposal, that he 
should have constructed a Government, and in his 
brief administration have entered into relations 
with foreign States would seem to justify what 
Hill Burton says of him. But to my mind the 
greatest p r oof of Wallace's eminence and power 
is this, that in the amnesty of 1304, when Scot- 
land lay almost prostrate at the feet of the invader, 
Wallace was the sole exception to whom no mercy 
or quarter was to be shown — as if even Edward 
in the full swell of his power and supremacy 
felt that his empire was not safe so long as so 



20 SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 

dangerous, so potent, and so capable an enemy- 
was at large. 

Again, gentlemen, whatever his talents may- 
have been, there is something greater in 
great men than their talents ; for the most 
consummate talents in themselves will not 
make a great man. There is in them, besides 
their talent, their spirit, their character, that 
magnetic fluid, as it were, that enables them to 
influence vast bodies of their fellow-men, which 
makes them a binding and stimulating power 
outside the circle of their own personal fascin- 
ation. That Wallace had this power we have 
abundant evidence. He was the first to rise 
and to face the oppressor. It was he who set 
the heather on fire. It was he who inspired the 
men and the events which followed. For, 
gentlemen, after all, what Wallace in his own 
person effected and achieved is as nothing to 
what he created and bequeathed behind him — 
the fixed resolve of undying patriotism, the 
passionate unquenchable determination of free- 
dom, the men who were to emulate and imitate 
himself. Without him, in face of the formidable 
foe they had to face, the Scots might never 
have rallied for defence at all. Bruce might 




NATIONAL WALLACE MONUMENT, STIRLING, 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 21 

never have stood forth, and Bannockburn might 
not have been fought. Scotland might have 
become a remote and oppressed or neglected 
district, without a name or a history or a friend; 
and the centuries of which we are so proud, cen- 
turies so full of energy and passion and dramatic 
history, might have passed silently and heedlessly 
over a dark and unknown province. Wallace was 
in truth the champion who stood forth and 
prevented this, who asserted Scotland as an 
independent country, who made, or remade, the 
Scots as a nation. It is for this that we Scots- 
men must put him in the highest place. It is for 
this that we venerate his name, now that the dark 
and bloody memories of his time are memories, 
and nothing more. It is for this that we 
honour him when his foes are our nearest and 
dearest friends. And, gentlemen, can we not 
condense the truth about Wallace even more 
compactly than this ? 

Sir, there are junctures in the affairs of 
men when what is wanted is a man — not 
treasures, not fleets, not legions, but a Man 
— the man of the moment, the man of the 
occasion, the man of destiny, whose spirit 
attracts and unites and inspires, whose capacity 



22 SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 

is congenial to the crisis, whose powers are 
equal to the convulsion — the child and the out- 
come of the storm. The type of the man is the 
same though you find it under different names 
and different forms in different ages. It is the 
same whether you call it Caesar or Luther or 
Washington or Mirabeau or Cavour. The 
crisis is a travail, and the birth of the man ends 
or assuages it. We recognise in Wallace one 
of these men — a man of fate given to Scotland 
in the storms of the thirteenth century. It is 
that fact, the fact of his destiny and his fateful- 
ness, that succeeding generations have instinc- 
tively recognised. It is that fact in reality that 
we are commemorating to-day. 

Gentlemen, there are some who have doubts 
and difficulties with regard to celebrations of 
this kind. There are some who cast doubt on 
the wisdom of celebrating with enthusiasm men 
and events of so remote a period in our history. 
How, they think, can you kindle enthusiasm 
about men or events of six centuries ago ? I 
shall not trouble this assembly with answering 
such persons, except in the stanza which Burns 
wrote about the Solemn League and Covenant ; 
of which there are two versions, which, with 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 23 

your permission, I will combine. Do you 
remember it ? 

" The Solemn League and Covenant 

Cost Scotland blood, cost Scotland tears ; 
But sacred Freedom, too, was theirs : 
If thou'rt a slave, indulge thy sneers." 

But there is another class who urge, with more 
reason perhaps, that it is not timely or politic, or 
even friendly, to celebrate a victory in which 
the defeated foes were Englishmen. In my 
opinion it is no disparagement to our loyalty or 
our affection for England that we are celebrating 
the memory of the battle of Stirling and of Sir 
William Wallace. In the course of the long 
and bloody wars between the two countries, 
England has many victories to recall ; but in 
the splendid record of her triumphs all over 
the world it is not worth while for her to 
celebrate the memory of such battles as Flodden 
or Dunbar. To us, however, the memory of 
this victory and of the man by whom it was 
gained does not represent the defeat of an 
English army, but the dawn of our national 
existence and the assertion of our national 
independence. Let us all then, Englishmen 



24 



SIR WILLIAM WALLACE. 



and Scotsmen together, rejoice in this anniver- 
sary and in the memory of this hero, for he at 
Stirling made Scotland great ; and if Scotland 
were not great, the Empire of all the Britains 
would not stand where it does. 




ROBERT BURNS. 




BUST OF ROBERT BURNS. 
National Wallace Monument, Stirling, 







ROBERT BURNS. 

Glasgow and Dumfries, July 21, 1896. 
I. 

COME here as a loyal burgess of Dumfries 
* to do honour to the greatest burgess of 
Dumfries. You, Mr. Provost, have laid upon 
me a great distinction but a great burden. 
Your most illustrious burgess obtained privileges 
for his children in respect of his burgess-ship, 
but you impose on your youngest burgess an 
honour that might well break anybody's back — 
that in attempting to do justice in any shape or 
fashion to the hero of to-day's ceremony. But 
we citizens of Dumfries have a special claim to 
be considered on this day. We are surrounded 
by the choicest and the most sacred haunts of 
the poet. You have in this town the house 
in which he died, the "Globe," where we could 
have wished that some phonograph had then 
existed which could have communicated to us 



28 ROBERT BURNS 

some of his wise and witty, wayward talk. 
You have the street commemorated in 
M'Culloch's tragic anecdote when Burns was 
shunned by his former friends, and you have 
the paths by the Nith which are associated with 
some of his greatest work. You have near 
you the room in which the whistle was contended 
for, and in which, if mere legend is to be 
trusted, the immortal Dr. Gregory was sum- 
moned to administer his first powders to the 
survivors of that memorable feast. You 
have the stackyard in which, lying on his 
back and contemplating — 

" Thou ling'ring star, with less'ning ray, 
That lov'st to greet the early morn," 

he wrote the lines "To Mary in Heaven" — 
perhaps the most pathetic of his poems. You 
have near you the walk by the river where, in 
his transport, he passed his wife and children 
without seeing them, "his brow flushed and his 
eyes shining " with the lustre of " Tarn o' 
Shanter." " I wish you had but seen him," 
said his wife ; " he was in such ecstacy that the 
tears were happing down his cheeks." That is 
why we are in Dumfries to-day. We come to 



ROBERT BURNS. 29 

honour Burns among these immortal haunts 
of his. 

But it is not in Dumfries alone that he is 
commemorated to-day, for all Scotland will pay 
her tribute. And this, surely, is but right. 
Mankind owes him a general debt. But the 
debt of Scotland is special. For Burns exalted 
our race, he hallowed Scotland and the Scottish 
tongue. Before his time we had for a long 
period been scarcely recognised, we had been 
falling out of the recollection of the world. 
From the time of the union of the Crowns, and 
still more from the time of the legislative union, 
Scotland had lapsed into obscurity. Except 
for an occasional riot or a Jacobite rising, her 
existence was almost forgotten. She had, 
indeed, her Robertsons and her Humes writing 
history to general admiration, but no trace of 
Scottish authorship was discoverable in their 
works ; indeed, every flavour of national idiom 
was carefully excluded. The Scottish dialect, 
as Burns called it, was in danger of perishing. 
Burns seemed at this juncture to start to his 
feet and re-assert Scotland's claim to national 
existence ; his Scottish notes rang through 
the world, and he preserved the Scottish 



30 ROBERT BURNS. 

language for ever ; for mankind will never 
allow to die that idiom in which his songs and 
poems are enshrined. That is a part of Scot- 
land's debt to Burns. 

But this is much more than a Scottish 
demonstration ; it is a collection of representa- 
tives from all quarters of the globe to own a 
common allegiance and a common faith. It is 
not only Scotsmen honouring the greatest of 
Scotsmen — we stretch far beyond a kingdom or 
a race — we are rather a sort of poetical Moham- 
medans gathered at a sort of poetical Mecca. 

And yet we are assembled in our high 
enthusiasm under circumstances which are 
somewhat paradoxical. For with all the appear- 
ance of joy, we celebrate not a festival, but a 
tragedy. It is not the sunrise, but the sunset 
that we commemorate. It is not the birth of a 
new power into the world, the subtle germ of a 
fame that is to survive and inspire the genera- 
tions of men ; but it is perhaps more fitting that 
we celebrate the end and not the beginning. 
For the coming of these figures is silent ; it is 
their disappearance that we know. At this 
instant that I speak there may be born into the 
world the equal of a Newton or a Cresar, but 



ROBERT BURNS. 31 

half of us would be dead before he had revealed 
himself. Their death is different. It may be 
gloomy and disastrous ; it may come at a 
moment of shame and neglect ; but by that time 
the man has carved his name somewhere on the 
Temple of Fame. There are exceptions, of 
course ; cases where the end comes before the 
slightest, or any but the slightest, recognition — 
Chatterton choking in his garret, hunger of 
body and soul all unsatisfied ; Millet selling his 
pictures for a song ; nay, Shakespeare himself. 
But, as a rule, death in the case of genius closes 
the first act of a public drama ; criticism and 
analysis may then begin their unbiased work 
free from jealousy or friendship or personal 
consideration for the living. Then comes the 
third act, if third act their be. 

No, it is a death, not a birth, that we 
celebrate. This day a century ago, in poverty, 
delirium, and distress, there was passing the soul 
of Robert Burns. To him death comes in 
clouds and darkness, the end of a long agony of 
body and soul ; he is harassed with debt, his 
bodily constitution is ruined, his spirit is broken, 
his wife daily expecting her confinement. He 
has lost almost all that rendered his life happy 



32 ROBERT BURNS. 

— much of friendship, credit, and esteem, Some 
score years before, one of the most charming - of 
English writers, as he lay dying, was asked if 
his mind was at ease, and with his last breath 
Oliver Goldsmith owned that it was not. So it 
was with Robert Burns. His delirium dwelt 
on the horrors of a jail ; he uttered curses on 
the tradesman who was pursuing him for debt. 
''What business," said he to his physician in a 
moment of consciousness, "what business has a 
physician to waste his time upon me ; I am a 
poor pigeon not worth plucking. Alas ! I have 
not feathers enough to carry me to my grave." 
For a year or more his health had been failing. 
He had a poet's body as well as a poet's mind ; 
nervous, feverish, impressionable ; and his 
constitution, which, if nursed and regulated, 
might have carried him to the limit of life, was 
unequal to the storm and stress of dissipation 
and a preying mind. In the previous autumn 
he had been seized with a rheumatic attack ; his 
digestion had given way ; he was sunk in 
melancholy and gloom. In his last April he 
wrote to his friend Thomson, " By Babel's 
streams I have sate and wept almost ever since I 
saw you last. I have only known existence by the 



ROBERT BURNS. 33 

pressure of the heavy hand of Sickness, and 
have counted time by the repercussions of pain ! 
Rheumatism, cold, and fever, have formed, to 
me, a terrible combination, which makes 
me close my eyes in misery, and open them 
without hope." It was sought to revive him by 
sea-bathing, and he went to stay at Browwell. 
There he remained three weeks, but was under 
no delusion as to his state. "Well, madame," 
he said to Mrs. Riddell on arriving, " have you 
any commands for the other world ?" He sat 
that evening with his old friend, and spoke 
manfully of his approaching death, of the fate 
of his children, and his fame ; sometimes 
indulging in bitter-sweet pleasantry, but never 
losing the consciousness of his condition. In 
three weeks he wearied of the fruitless hunt for 
health, and he returned home to die. He was 
only just in time. When he re-entered his 
home, on the 18th he could no longer stand; 
he was soon delirious ; in three days he was 
dead. " On the fourth day," we are told, when 
his attendant held a cordial to his lips, he swal- 
lowed it eagerly, rose almost wholly up, spread 
out his hands, sprang forward nigh the whole 
length of the bed, fell on his face, andexpired." 



34 ROBERT BURNS. 

I suppose there are many who can read the 
account of these last months with composure. 
They are more fortunate than I. There is 
nothing much more melancholy in all biography. 
The brilliant poet, the delight of all society, 
from the highest to the lowest, sits brooding in 
silence over the drama of his spent life ; the 
early innocent home, the plough and the savour 
of fresh-turned earth ; the silent communion 
with Nature and his own heart, the brief hour 
of splendour, the dark hour of neglect, the mad 
struggle for forgetfulness, the bitterness of 
vanished homage, the gnawing doubt of fame, 
the distressful future of his wife and children — 
an endless witch-dance of thought without 
clue or remedy, all perplexing, all soon to 
end while he is yet young, as men reckon 
youth ; though none know so well as he that 
nis youth is gone, his race is run, his message 
is delivered. 

His death revived the flagging interest and 
pride that had been felt for him. As usual, men 
began to realise what they had lost when it was 
too late. When it was known that he was 
dying the townspeople had shown anxiety and 
distress. They recalled his splendour and forgot 



ROBERT BURNS. 35 

his fall. One man was heard to ask, with a touch 
of quaint simplicity, " Who do you think will be 
our poet now ? " The district set itself to 
prepare a public funeral for the poet who had 
died penniless among them. A vast concourse 
followed him to his grave. The awkward 
squad, as he had foreseen and deprecated, fired 
volleys over his coffin. The streets were lined 
with soldiers, among" them one who, within 
sixteen years, was to be Prime Minister. And 
while the procession wended its gloomy way, 
as if no element of tragedy were to be wanting, 
his widow's hour of travail arrived, and she gave 
birth to the hapless child that had caused the 
father so much misgiving. In this place and on 
this day it all seems present to us — the house of 
anguish, the thronged churchyard, the weeping 
neighbours. We feel ourselves part of the 
mourning crowd. We hear those dropping 
volleys and that muffled drum ; we bow our 
heads as the coffin passes, and acknowledge 
with tears the inevitable doom. Pass, heavy 
hearse, with thy weary freight of shattered 
hopes and exhausted frame ; pass, with thy 
simple pomp of fatherless bairns and sad 
moralising friends ; pass, with the sting of death 



36 ROBERT BURNS. 

to the victory of the grave ; pass, with the 
perishable, and leave us the eternal. 

It is rare to be fortunate in life ; it is infinitely- 
rarer to be fortunate in death. " Happy in the 
occasion of his death," as Tacitus said of 
Agricola, is not a common epitaph. It is com- 
paratively easy to know how to live, but it is 
beyond all option and choice to compass the 
more difficult art of knowing when and how to 
die. We can generally by looking back choose 
a moment in a man's life when he had been 
fortunate had he dropped down dead. And so 
the question arises naturally to-day, was Burns 
fortunate in his death — that death which we 
commemorate ? There can, I fancy, be only 
one answer ; it was well that he died when he 
did ; it might even have been better for himself 
had he died a little earlier. The terrible letters 
that he wrote two years before to Mrs. Riddell 
and Mr. Cunningham betoken a spirit mortally 
wounded. In those last two years the cloud 
settles, never to be lifted. " My constitution 
and frame were ab origine blasted with a deep 
incurable taint of hypochondria which poisons 
my existence." He found perhaps some 
pleasure in the composition of his songs, some 



ROBERT BURNS. 37 

occasional relief in the society of boon com- 
panions ; but the world was fading before him. 

There is an awful expression in Scotland 
which one never hears without a pang — " So- 
and-so is done" meaning that he is physically- 
worn out. Burns was " done." He was 
struggling on like a wounded deer to his death. 
He had often faced the end, and not unwillingly. 
"Can it be possible," he once wrote to Mrs. 
Dunlop, "that when I resign this frail, feverish 
being, I shall still find myself in conscious 
existence ? When the last gasp of agony has 
announced that I am no more to those that 
know me, and the few who loved me ; when the 
cold, unconscious corse is resigned to the 
earth, to be the prey of reptiles, and 
become a trodden clod, shall I yet be warm 
in life, enjoying or enjoyed ? " Surely that 
reads as if he foresaw this day and fain would be 
with us — cS indeed he may be. Twelve years 
before he had faced death in a less morbid 
spirit : 

" Why [he asked] am I loth to leave this earthly scene ? 
Have I so found it full of pleasing charms ? 
Some drops of joy, with draughts of ill between — 
Some gleams of sunshine, 'mid renewing storms ? " 



38 ROBERT BURNS. 

He had, perhaps, never enjoyed life so much as. 
is supposed, though he had turned to it a brave, 
cheerful, unflinching face, and the last years had 
been years of misery. " God have mercy on 
me," he wrote years before the end, "a poor 
damned, incautious, duped, unfortunate fool ! 
The sport, the miserable victim of rebellious 
pride, hypochondriac imagination, agonising^ 
sensibility, and bedlam passions." There was 
truth in this outburst. At any rate, his most 
devoted friends — and to be an admirer of Burns 
is to be his friend — may wish that he had not 
lived to write the letter to Mr. Clark, piteously 
pleading that a harmless toast may not be 
visited hardly upon him ; or that to Mrs. 
Liddell, beginning : " I write from the regions 
of Hell, and the horrors of the damned " ; or 
to be harried by his official superiors as a 
political suspect ; shunned by his fashionable 
friends for the same reason ; wandering like a 
neglected ghost in Dumfries, avoided and 
ignored. "That's all over now, my young 
friend," he said, speaking of his reign in society, 
"and werena my heart licht I wad dee." All 
this was in 1794. Had he died before then, it 
might have been happier for himself, and we 



ROBERT BURNS. 39 

should have lost some parts of his life which we 
would rather forget ; but posterity could not 
have spared him ; we could not have lost the 
exquisite songs which we owe to those years ; 
but, above all, the supreme creed and comfort 
which he bequeathed to the world — 

" A man's a man for a' that," 

would have remained undelivered. 

One may, perhaps, go further and say that 
poets — or those whom the gods love — should 
die young. This is a hard saying, but it will 
not greatly affect the bills of mortality. And it 
applies only to poets of the first rank ; while 
even here it has its exceptions, and illustrious 
exceptions they are. But surely the best poetry 
is produced before middle age, before the 
morning and its illusions have faded, before the 
heaviness of noon and the baleful cool of the 
evening. Few men, too, can bear the strain of 
a poet's temperament through many years. At 
any rate, we may feel sure of this, that Burns 
had produced his best, that he would never again 
have produced a " Tarn o' Shanter," or a 
"Cottar's Saturday Night," or a "Jolly 
Beggars " ; and that long before his death, 



40 ROBERT BURNS. 

though he could still write lines affluent with 
tenderness and grace, " the hand of pain and 
sorrow and care," to use his own words, "had 
lain heavy upon " him. 

And this leads to another point. To-day is 
not merely the melancholy anniversary of death, 
but the rich and incomparable fulfilment of 
prophecy. For this is the moment to which 
Burns looked when he said to his wife : " Don't 
be afraid; I'll be more respected a hundred 
years after I am dead than I am at present ! " 
To-day the hundred years are completed, and 
we can judge of the prediction. On that point 
we must all be unanimous. Burns had honour 
in his lifetime, but his fame has rolled like a 
snowball since his death, and it rolls on. There 
is, indeed, no parallel to it in the world ; it sets 
the calculations of compound interest at defiance. 
He is not merely the watchword of a nation that 
carries and implants Burns-worship all over the 
globe as birds carry seeds, but he has become 
the champion and patron saint of Democracy. 
He bears the banner of the essential quality of 
man. His birthday is celebrated — 137 years after 
its occurrence — more universally than that of 
any human being. He reigns over a greater 




GLOBE TAVERN, DUMFRIES, 



ROBERT BURNS. 41 

dominion than any empire that the world has 
ever seen. Nor does the ardour of his devotees 
decrease. Ayr and Ellisland, Mauchline and 
Dumfries, are the shrines of countless pilgrims. 
Burns statues are a hardy annual. The pro- 
duction of Burns manuscripts was a lucrative 
branch of industry until it was checked by 
untimely intervention. The editions of Burns 
are as the sands of the sea. No canonised 
name in the calendar excites so blind and 
enthusiastic a worship, Whatever Burns may 
have contemplated in his prediction, what- 
ever dream he may have fondled in the wildest 
moments of elation, must have fallen utterly 
short of the reality. And it is all spontaneous. 
There is no puff, no advertisement, no manipu- 
lation. Intellectual cosmetics of that kind are 
frail and fugitive ; they rarely survive their 
subject ; they would not have availed here. Nor 
was there any glamour attached to the poet ; 
rather the reverse. He has stood by himself ; 
he has grown by himself. It is himself and no 
other that we honour. 

But what had Burns in his mind when he made 
this prediction ? It might be whimsically urged 
that he was conscious that the world had not 



42 ROBERT BURNS. 

yet seen his masterpiece, for the " Jolly 
Beggars " was not published till some time 
after his death. But that would not be 
sufficient, for he had probably forgotten its 
existence. Nor do I think he spoke at haphazard. 
What were perhaps present to his mind were 
the fickleness of his contemporaries towards 
him, his conviction of the essential splendour of 
his work, the consciousness that the incidents of 
his later years had unjustly obscured him, and 
that his true figure would be perceived as these 
fell away into forgetfulness or were measured 
at their true value. If so, he was right in his 
judgment, for his true life began with his death ; 
with the body passed all that was gross and 
impure ; the clear spirit stood revealed ; and 
soared at once to its accepted place among the 
fixed stars, in the firmament of the rare 
immortals. 



II. 



WE are here to-day to celebrate Burns. 
What the direct connection of Burns with 
Glasgow may be I am not exactly sure ; but, 
at any rate, I am confident of this, that in the 
great metropolis of the West there is a clear claim 
that we should celebrate the genius of Robert 
Burns. I have celebrated it already elsewhere. 
I cannot, perhaps, deny that the day has been a 
day of labour, but it has been a labour of love. 
It is, and it must be, a source of joy and pride 
to us to see our champion Scotsman receive the 
honour and admiration and affection of humanity ; 
to see, as I have seen this morning, the long 
processions bringing homage and tribute to the 
conquering dead. But these have only been 
signs and symptoms of the world-wide passion 
of reverence and devotion. That generous and 
immortal soul pervades the universe to-day. In 
the humming city and in the crowd of man ; in 
the backwood and in the swamp ; where the 
sentinel paces the'.bleak frontier, and where the 



44 ROBERT BURNS. 

sailor smokes his evening pipe ; and, above all, 
where the farmer and his men pursue their 
summer toil, whether under the Stars and 
Stripes or under the Union Jack — the thought 
and sympathy of men are directed to Robert 
Burns. 

I have sometimes asked myself, if a roll-call 
of fame were read over at the beginning of 
every century, how many men of eminence 
would answer a second time to their names, 
But of our poet there is no doubt or question. 
The adsum of Burns rings out clear and 
unchallenged. There are few before him on the 
list, and we cannot now conceive a list without 
him. He towers high, and yet he lived in an 
age when the average was sublime. 

It sometimes seems to me as if the whole 
eighteenth century was a constant preparation 
for, a constant working up to, the great drama 
of the revolution which closed it. The scenery 
is all complete when the time arrives — the dark 
volcanic country ; the hungry desperate people ; 
the firfly nobles ; the concentrated splendour of 
the Court — in the midst, in her place as 
heroine, the dazzling Queen. And during long 
previous years brooding nature had been pro- 



ROBERT BURNS. 45 

during not merely the immediate actors, but 
figures worthy of the scene. What a glittering 
procession it is ! We can only mark some of 
the principal figures. Burke leads the way by 
seniority; then come Foxand Goethe; Nelson and 
Mozart ; Schiller, Pitt, and Burns ; Wellington 
and Napoleon. And among these Titans, 
Burns is a conspicuous figure, the figure which 
appeals most of all to the imagination and 
affection of mankind. Napoleon looms larger 
to the imagination, but on the affection he has 
no hold. It is in the combination of the two 
powers that Burns is supreme. 

What is his secret ? We are always discussing 
him and endeavouring to find it out. Perhaps, 
like the latent virtue of some medicinal baths, 
it may never be satisfactorily explained. But, 
at any rate, let us discuss him again. That is, 
I presume, our object to-night. What pleasanter 
or more familiar occupation can there be for 
Scotsmen? But the Scotsmen who enjoy it 
have generally perhaps more time than I. 
Pardon then the imperfections of my speech, 
for I speak of a subject which no one can 
altogether compass, and which a busy man has 
perhaps no right to attempt. 



46 ROBERT BURNS. 

The clue to Burns's extraordinary hold on 
mankind is possibly a complicated one ; it has, 
perhaps, many developments. If so, we have 
not time to consider it to-night. But I person- 
ally believe the causes are, like most great 
causes, simple ; though it might take long to 
point out all the ways in which they operate. 
The secret, as it seems to me, lies in two words 
— inspiration and sympathy. But if I wished 
to prove my contention, I should go on quoting 
from his poems all night, and his admirers would 
still declare that I had omitted the best passages. 
I know that profuse quotation is a familiar form 
of a Burns speech ; but I am afraid to begin 
lest I should not end, and I am sure that I 
should not satisfy. I must proceed then in a 
more summary way. 

Now, there seem to me to be two great 
natural forces in British literature. I use the 
safe adjective of British, and your applause 
shows me that I was right to do so. I use it 
partly because hardly any of Burns's poetry is 
strictly English ; partly because he hated, and 
was perhaps the first to protest against, the use 
of the word English as including Scottish. 
Well, I say there are in that literature two 



ROBERT BURNS. 47 

great forces of which the power seems sheer 
inspiration and nothing- else— Shakespeare and 
Burns. This is not the place or the time to 
speak of that miracle called Shakespeare, but 
one must say a word of the miracle called Burns. 

Try and reconstruct Burns as he was. A 
peasant, born in a cottage that no sanitary 
inspector in these days would tolerate for a 
moment ; struggling with desperate effort 
against pauperism, almost in vain ; snatching at 
scraps of learning in the intervals of toil, as it 
were with his teeth ; a heavy silent lad, proud 
of his ploughing. All of a sudden, without 
preface or warning, he breaks out into exquisite 
song, like a nightingale from the brushwood, 
and continues singing as sweetly — with nightin- 
gale pauses— till he dies. A nightingale sings 
because he cannot help it ; he can only sing 
exquisitely, because he knows no other. So it 
was with Burns. What is this but inspiration ? 
One can no more measure or reason about it 
than measure or reason about Niagara. 

And remember that the poetry is only 
a fragment of Burns. Amazing as it may 
seem, all contemporary testimony is unanimous 
that the man was far more wonderful than his 



48 ROBERT BURNS. 

works. "It will be the misfortune of Burns's, 
reputation," writes an accomplished lady, who 
might well have judged him harshly, " in the 
records of literature, not only to future 
generations and foreign countries, but even 
with his native Scotland and a number of his 
contemporaries, that he has been regarded as a 
poet and nothing but a poet. . . . Poetry," 
she continues, "(I appeal to all who had the 
advantage of being personally acquainted with 

him) was actually not his forte 

None certainly ever out-shone Burns in the 
charms — the sorcery I would almost call it — 
of fascinating conversation, the spontaneous 
eloquence of social argument, or the unstudied 
poignancy of brilliant repartee." And she goes 
on to describe the almost superhuman fascina- 
tion of his voice and of his eyes, those balls of 
black fire which electrified all on whom they 
rested. 

It seems strange to be told that it would be 
an injustice to judge Burns by his poetry alone ; 
but as to the magnetisrn of his presence and 
conversation there is only one verdict. " No 
man's conversation ever carried me so com- 
pletely off my feet," said the Duchess of Gordon 




HOUSE WHERE BURNS DIED, DUMFRIES. 



ROBERT BURNS. 49 

— the friend of Pitt and of the London wits, the 
queen of Scottish Society. Dugald Stewart 
says that " all the faculties of Burns's mind were, 
so far as I could judge, equally vigorous ; and 
his predilection for poetry was rather the result 
of his own enthusiastic and impassioned temper 
than of a genius exclusively adapted to that 
species of composition. From his conversation 
I should have pronounced him to be fitted to 
excel in whatever walk of ambition he had chosen 
to exert his abilities." And of his prose com- 
positions the same severe judge speaks thus : 
"Their great and various excellencies render 
some of them scarcely less objects of wonder 
than his poetical performances. The late Dr. 
Robertson used to say that, considering his 
education, the former seemed to him the more 
extraordinary of the two." " I think Burns," 
said Principal Robertson to a friend, "was one 
of the most extraordinary men I ever met with. 
His poetry surprised me very much, his prose 
surprised me still more, and his conversation 
surprised me more than both his poetry and 
prose." We are told, too, that "he felt a strong 
call towards oratory, and all who heard him 
speak — and some of them were excellent judges 

D 



50 ROBERT BURNS. 

— admitted his wonderful quickness of appre- 
hension and readiness of eloquence." All this 
seems to me marvellous. It surely ratifies the 
claim of inspiration without the necessity of 
quoting a line of his poetry. 

I pass then to his sympathy. If his talents 
were universal, his sympathy was not less so. 
His tenderness was not a mere selfish tenderness 
for his own family, for he loved all mankind 
except the cruel and the base. Nay, we may 
go further and say that he placed all creation, 
especially the suffering and the despised part of 
it, under his protection. The oppressor in 
every shape, even in the comparatively innocent 
embodiment of the factor and the sportsmen, 
he regarded with direct and personal hostility. 
But above all he saw the charm of the home ; 
he recognised it as the basis of all society, he 
honoured it in its humblest form, for he knew, 
as few know, how unpretentiously, but how 
sincerely, the family in the cottage is welded by 
mutual love and esteem. " I recollect once," 
said Dugald Stewart, speaking of Burns, " he 
told me, when I was admiring a distant prospect 
in one of our morning walks, that the sight of 
so many smoking cottages gave a pleasure to 



ROBERT BURNS. 51 

his mind which none could understand who had 
not witnessed, like himself, the happiness and 
the worth which they contained." He dwells 
repeatedly on the primary sacredness of the 
home and the family, the responsibility of father- 
hood and marriage. " Have not I," he once 
wrote to Lord Mar, "a more precious stake in 
my country's welfare than the richest dukedom 
in it ? I have a large family of children, and 
the prospect of many more." The lines in which 
he tells his faith are not less memorable than 
the stately stanzas in which Gray sings the 
" short and simple annals of the poor." I must 
quote them again, often quoted as they are : 

" To make a happy fireside clime 
To weans and wife, 
That's the true pathos and sublime 
Of human life." 

His verses, then, go straight to the heart of 
every home ; they appeal to every father and 
mother. But that is only the beginning, 
perhaps the foundation, of his sympathy. There 
is something for everybody in Burns. He has 
a heart even for vermin ; he has pity even for 
the arch-enemy of mankind. And his univer- 



52 ROBERT BURNS. 

sality makes his poems a treasure-house in 
which all may find what they want. Every 
wayfarer in the journey of life may pluck 
strength and courage from it as he passes. The 
sore, the weary, the wounded, will all find 
something to heal and soothe. For this great 
master is the universal Samaritan. Where the 
priest and the Levite may have passed by in 
vain, this eternal heart will still afford a resource. 
But he is not only for the sick in spirit. The 
friend, the lover, the patriot, will all find their 
choicest refreshment in Burns. His touch is 
everywhere, and it is everywhere the touch of 
genius. Nothing comes amiss to him. What 
was said of the debating power of his eminent 
contemporary, Dundas, may be said of his 
poetry : " He went out in all weathers." And 
it may be added that all weathers suited him ; 
that he always brought back something precious, 
something we cherish, something that cannot 
die. 

He is, then, I think, the universal friend in 
an unique sense. But he was, poetically speak- 
ing, the special friend of Scotland, in a sense 
which recalls a profound remark of another 
eminent Scotsman, I mean Fletcher of Saltoun. 



ROBERT BURNS. 53 

In an account of a conversation between Lord 
Cromarty, Sir Edward Seymour, Sir Christopher 
Musgrave, Fletcher writes : "I said I 
knew a very wise man, so much of Sir 
Christopher's sentiment that he believed if a 
man were permitted to make all the ballads, he 
need not care who should make the laws of a 
nation," This may be rudely paraphrased, that 
it is more important to make the songs of a 
nation than to frame its laws, and this again 
may be interpreted that in former days, 
at any rate in the days of Fietcher, and 
to the days of Burns, it is the familiar 
songs of a people that mould their thoughts, 
their manners, and their morals. If this 
be true, can we exaggerate the debt 
that we Scotsmen owe to Burns ? He has 
bequeathed to his country the most exquisite 
casket of songs in the world ; primarily to his 
country, end others cannot be denied their 
share. I will give only one example, but that 
is a signal one. From distant Roumania the 
Queen of that country wrote to Dumfries to-day 
that she has no copy of Burns with her, but that 
she knows his songs by heart. 

We must remember that there is more 



54 ROBERT BURNS. 

than this to be said. Many of Burns's songs 
were already in existence in the lips and minds 
of the people — rough and coarse and obscene. 
Our benefactor takes them, and with a touch of 
inspired alchemy transmutes them and leaves 
them pure gold. He loved the old catches and 
the old tunes, and into these gracious moulds 
he poured his exquisite gifts of thought and 
expression. But for him, those ancient airs, 
often wedded to words which no decent man 
could recite, would have perished from that 
corruption if not from neglect. He rescued 
them for us by his songs, and in doing so he 
hallowed the life and sweetened the breath of 
Scotland. 

I have also used the words patriot and lover. 
These draw me to different lines of thought. 
The word "patriot" leads me to the political 
side of Burns. There is no doubt that he was 
suspected of being a politician ; and he is even 
said to have sometimes wished to enter Parlia- 
ment. That was perhaps an excusable aberra- 
tion, and my old friend Professor Masson has, I 
think, surmised that had he lived he might have 
been a great Liberal pressman. My frail 
thought shall not dally with such surmise, but it 



ROBERT BURNS. 55 

conducts us naturally to the subject of Burns's 
politics. From his sympathy for his own class, 
from his indignation against nobles like the 
Duke of Queensberry, and from the toasts that 
cost him so dear, it might be considered easy to 
infer his political opinions. But Burns should 
not be claimed for any party. A poet, be it 
remembered, is never a politician, and a 
politician is never a poet — that is to say, a 
politician is never so fortunate as to be a poet, 
and a poet is so fortunate as never to be a 
politician. I do not say that the line of demar- 
cation is never passed — a politician may have 
risen for a moment, or a poet may have 
descended ; but where there is any confusion 
between the two callings, it is generally because 
the poet thinks he discerns, or the politician 
think he needs, something higher than politics. 
Burns's politics were entirely governed by his 
imagination. He was at once a Jacobite and a 
Jacobin. He had the sad sympathy which 
most of us have felt for the hapless house of 
Stuart, without the least wish to be governed 
by it. He had much the same sort of abstract 
sympathy with the French Revolution, when it 
was setting all Europe to rights ; but he was 



56 ROBERT BURNS. 

prepared to lay down his life to prevent its 
putting this island to rights. And then came 
his official superiors of the Excise, who, not- 
withstanding Mr. Pitt's admiration of his poetry, 
snuffed out his politics without remorse. 

The name of Pitt leads me to add that Burns 
had some sort of relation with three Prime 
Ministers. Colonel Jenkinson, of the Cinque 
Ports Fencible Cavalry — afterwards Minister 
for fifteen years under the title of Liverpool — 
was on duty at Burns's funeral, though we are 
told — the good man — that he disapproved of the 
poet, and declined to make his acquaintance. 
Pitt, again, passed on Burns one of his rare and 
competent literary judgments, so eulogistic, 
indeed, that one wonders that a powerful 
Minister could have allowed one whom he 
admired so much to exist on an exciseman's pay 
when well, and an exciseman's half-pay when 
dying. And from Addington, another Prime 
Minister, Burns elicited a sonnet, which, in the 
Academy of Lagado, would surely have been 
held a signal triumph of the art of extracting 
sunshine from cucumbers. 

So much for politics in the party sense. " A 
man's a man for a' that " is not politics — it is the 




MAUSOLEUM, DUMFRIES. 



ROBERT BURNS. 57 

assertion of the rights of humanity in a sense 
far wider than politics. It erects all mankind ; 
it is the charter of its self-respect. It binds, it 
heals, it revives, it invigorates ; it sets the 
bruised and broken on their legs, it refreshes 
the stricken soul, it is the salve and tonic ot 
character ; it cannot be narrowed into politics. 
Burns's politics are indeed nothing but the 
occasional overflow of his human sympathy into 
past history and current events. 

And now, having discussed the two trains of 
thought suggested by the words "friend" and 
"patriot," I come to the more dangerous word 
" lover." There is an eternal controversy which, 
it appears, no didactic oil will ever assuage, as 
to Burns's private life and morality. Some 
maintain that these have nothing to do with his 
poems ; some maintain that his life must be 
read into his works, and here again some think 
that his h'fe damns his poems, while others aver 
that his poems cannot be fully appreciated with- 
out his life. Another school thinks that his 
vices have been exaggerated, while their 
opponents scarcely think such exaggeration 
possible. It is impossible to avoid taking a 
side. I walk on the ashes, knowing the fire 



58 ROBERT BURNS. 

beneath, and unable to avoid it, for the topic is 
inevitable. I must confess myself, then, one of 
those who think that the life of Burns doubles 
the interest of his poems, and I doubt whether 
the failings of his life have been much 
exaggerated, for contemporary testimony on 
that point is strong ; though a high authority, 
Mr. Wallace, has recently taken the other side 
with much power and point. 

But the life of Burns, which I love to read 
with his poems, does not consist in his vices ; 
they lie outside it. It is a life of work, and 
truth, and tenderness. And though, like all 
lives, it has its light and shade, remember that 
we know it all, the worst as well as the best. 
His was a soul bathed in crystal, he hurried to 
avow everything. There was no reticence in 
him. The only obscure passage in his life is 
the love passage with Highland Mary, and as to 
that he was silent not from shame, but because 
it was a sealed and sacred episode. "What a 
flattering idea," he once wrote, " is a world to 
come ! There shall I with speechless agony of 
rapture again recognise my lost, my ever dear 
Mary ! whose bosom was fraught with truth, 
honour, constancy, and love." He had, as the 



ROBERT BURNS. 59 

French say, the defects of his qualities. His 
imagination was a supreme and celestial gift. 
But his imagination often led him wrong, and 
never more than with women. The chivalry 
that made Don Quixote see the heroic in all the 
common events of life made Burns (as his 
brother tells us) see a goddess in every girl that 
he approached. Hence many love affairs, and 
some guilty ones ; but even these must be 
judged with reference to time and circumstance. 
This much is certain, that had he been devoid 
of genius they would not have attracted 
attention. It is Burns's pedestal that affords 
a target. And why, one may ask, is not 
the same measure meted out to Burns as 
to others ? The illegitimate children of 
great captains and statesmen and princes are 
treated as historical and ornamental incidents. 
They strut the scene of Shakespeare, and ruff it 
with the best. It is for the illegitimate children of 
Burns, though he and his wife cherished them 
as if born in wedlock, that the vials of wrath are 
reserved. Take two brilliant figures, both 
descended from the Stewarts, who were alive 
during Burns's life. We occupy ourselves end- 
lessly and severely with the offences of Burns. 



60 ROBERT BURNS. 

We heave an elegant sigh over the kindred 
frailties of Charles James Fox and Charles 
Edward Stuart. 

Again, it is quite clear that, though excep- 
tionally sober in his earlier years, he drank too 
much in later life. But this, it must be remem- 
bered, was but an occasional condescendence to 
the vice and habit of the age. The gentry who 
pressed him to their houses, and who were all 
con vi vail, have much to answer for. His 
admirers who thronged to see him, and who 
could only conveniently sit with him in a tavern, 
are also responsible for this habit, so perilously 
attractive to men of genius. From the decorous 
Addison and the brilliant Bolingbroke onward, 
the eighteenth century records hard drinking as 
the common incident of intellectual eminence. 
To a man who had shone supreme in the most 
glowing society, and who was now an excise- 
man in a country town, with a home that cannot 
have been very exhilarating, and with a nervous 
system highly strung, the temptation of the 
warm tavern, and the admiring circle there, 
may well have been almost irresistible. Some 
attempt to say that his intemperance was 
exaggerated. I neither affirm nor deny. It 



ROBERT BURNS. 61 

was not as a sot he drank ; that no one 
insinuated ; if he succumbed it was to good 
fellowship. 

Remember, I do not seek to palliate or 
excuse, and, indeed, none will be turned to 
dissipation by Burns's example ; he paid too 
dearly for it. But I will say this, that it all 
seems infinitely little, infinitely remote. Why 
do we strain, at this distance, to discern this 
dim spot on the poet's mantle ? Shakespeare 
and Ben Jonson took their cool tankard at the 
Mermaid ; we cannot afford, in the strictest 
view of literary responsibility, to quarrel with 
them for that. When we consider Pitt and 
Goethe we do not concentrate our vision on 
Pitt's bottles of port or Goethe's bottles of 
Moselle. Then why, we ask, is there such a 
chasm between the Mermaid and the Globe, 
and why are the vintages of Wimbledon and 
Weimar so much more innocent than the simple 
punch-bowl of Inverary marble and its contents ? 

I should like to go a step further and affirm 
that we have something to be grateful for even 
in the weaknesses of men like Burns. Mankind 
is helped in its progress almost as much by the 
study of imperfection as by the contemplation 



<32 ROBERT BURNS. 

of perfection. Had we nothing- before us in 
our futile and halting - lives but saints and the 
ideal we might well fail altogether. We grope 
blindly along the catacombs of the world, we 
climb the dark ladder of life, we feel our way to 
futurity, but we can scarcely see an inch around 
or before us. We stumble and falter and fall, 
our hands and knees are bruised sore, and 
we look up for light and guidance. Could we 
see nothing but distant unapproachable impecca- 
bility, we might well sink prostrate in the 
hopelessness of emulation and the weariness of 
despair. Is it not then, when all seems blank 
and lightless and lifeless, when strength and 
courage flag, and when perfection seems as 
remote as a star, is it not then that imperfection 
helps us ? When we see that the greatest and 
choicest images of God have had their weak- 
nesses like ours, their temptations, their hours 
of darkness, their bloody sweat, are we not 
encouraged by their lapses and catastrophes to 
find energy for one more effort, one more 
struggle ? Where they failed we feel it a less 
dishonour to fail ; their errors and sorrows 
make, as it were, an easier ascent from infinite 
imperfection to infinite perfection. Man after 



ROBERT BURNS. (53 

all is not ripened by virtue alone. Were it so 
this world were a paradise of angels. No ' 
Like the growth of the earth, he is the fruit of 
all the seasons ; the accident of a thousand 
accidents, a living mystery, moving through the 
seen to the unseen. He is sown in dishonour ■ 
he is matured under all the varieties of heat and 
cold ; ,n mist and wrath, in snow and vapours 
in the melancholy of autumn, in the torpor of 
winter, as well as in the rapture and fragrance 
of summer, or the balmy affluence of the spring 
-its breath, its sunshine, its dew. And at the 
end he is reaped-the product, not of one 
climate, but of all ; not of good alone, but of 
evil; not of joy alone, but of sorrow-perhaps 
mellowed and ripened, perhaps stricken and 
withered and sour. How, then, shall we jud^e 
any one ? How, at any rate, shall we judge a 
giant, great in gifts and great in temptation- 
great in strength and great in weakness ? Let 
us glory in his strength and be comforted in his 
weakness. And when we thank heaven for the 
inestimable gift of Burns, we do not need to 
remember wherein he was imperfect, we cannot 
bring ourselves to regret that he was made of 
tne same clay as ourselves. 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 




PORTRAIT OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 

Edinburgh, December 10, 1S96. 

TN taking this prominent position this after- 
* noon, I feel to be somewhat of an impostor. 
I never knew or saw Robert Louis Stevenson 
face to face, and I am speaking among numbers 
here who knew him from childhood almost till 
he left this country for good. His mother is 
here. How, then, can I, in her presence and 
in the presence of those friends who knew him 
so well, pretend to take a prominent part on 
this occasion ? My part was a perfectly simple 
one. I wrote to the papers a genuine inquiry. 
I could not but believe that in this age of 
memorials and testimonials no stone or cairn 
had been put up to the memory of Robert 
Louis Stevenson. I should have been confident 
that such a memorial had been put up but for 
one trifling, though capital, circumstance — I had 
never been asked for a subscription ; and there- 
fore I came to the conclusion that there was 



68 ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 

grave doubts as to whether any such movement 
had taken place. Well, my inquiry has, I sup- 
pose, landed me in this chair. But I have been 
trying to make out some sort of relation to the 
genius we commemorate to-day which should 
entitle me to be in this place. Somewhere or 
other Robert Louis Stevenson has said that the 
two places which appealed most powerfully to his 
imagination are Bearford Bridge and the Hawes 
Inn, at Queensferry. Now, it so chances that 
close to both those places I have pitched my 
tent, or had my tent pitched for me. Bearford 
Bridge you probably don't all know. It is a 
place where Keats composed part of his 
" Endymion ; " where Nelson bade farewell to 
Lady Hamilton. It is near the spot where 
Talleyrand took refuge from the Revolution ; 
where Miss Burney first saw her husband, and 
where she spent the best years of her life. The 
Hawes Inn, at Queensferry, you probably know 
much better. I do not mean in the character of 
bond fide travellers, but rather as pilgrims to a 
sacred haunt ; for it is there that the genius of 
Sir Walter Scott and the genius of his successor 
first grasped each other by the hand ; for it 
is in the Hawes Inn, simple structure as it is, 






ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 69 

that the first act of the "Antiquary" and the 
first act of "Kidnapped" are laid. It is a 
solace to me to think that Sir Walter Scott 
certainly, and Robert Louis Stevenson I think 
certainly too, never saw that inn as it is now, 
overstridden and overidden by that monster of 
utility the Forth Bridge, which has added so 
immensely to the convenience and detracted so 
materially from the romance of that locality. 
Well, I have another claim to be here, but it is 
a claim that I have only in common with you 
all, and that is of being an ardent admirer of 
Robert Louis Stevenson and his work. 

To-day is not the moment — we have not the 
time, and it would require a literary capacity to 
which I make no pretence — to-day is not the 
opportunity to enter into any review of the 
works of Stevenson. But there are two or 
three points to which, as an outside reader, like 
yourselves, I must call your attention before I 
sit down. The first is the inimitable quality of 
his style. Now, the word style and stylist are 
apt perhaps in those days to raise a momentary 
prejudice as suggesting a style of writing which 
aims at words and phrases rather than at ideas ; 
but Stevenson's style was not this. Stevenson's 



70 ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 

style was the man himself, and it was even 
more, perhaps, than the man himself. I copied 
out this morning for you the account he gives 
somewhere of the slow and painful steps by 
which he acquired the style we know so well. 
He says : "I kept always two books in my 
pocket, one to read and one to write in. When- 
ever I read a book or a passage that particularly 
pleased me, in which a thing was said or an effect 
rendered with propriety, in which there was 
either some conspicious force or some happy 
distinction in the style, I must sit down at once 
and set myself to ape that quality. I was 
unsuccessful, and I knew it, and tried again, 
and was again unsuccessful, and always unsuc- 
cessful. But at least in these vain bouts I got 
some practice in rhythm, in harmony, in con- 
struction, and the co-ordination of parts. I 
have thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, 
to Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Montaigne, to 
Beaudelaire, and Oberman." And to these 
he adds afterwards, in a later passage, Ruskin, 
Browning, Morris, Keats, Swinburne, Chaucer, 
Webster, Congreve, and Thackeray ; and he 
sums it all by saying " that, like it or not, is the 
way to write," If a dullard was to pursue that 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 71 

practice which Stevenson enjoins, he would at 
the end of it be probably only as at the begin- 
ning a "sedulous ape." But with Stevenson 
there was the genius to mould what he had 
acquired by this painful practice. Mr. Fox 
said of Mr. Pitt that he himself (Mr. Fox) had 
always a command of words, but that Mr. Pitt 
had always a command of the right words, and 
that is a quality which strikes us so in the style 
of Stevenson. I do not know whether his 
method was easy or laborious. I strongly 
suspect it may have been laborious, but, which- 
ever it was, he never was satisfied with any 
word which did not fully embody the idea that 
he had in his mind, and therefore you have in 
his style something suggestive, something 
musical, something pregnant, a splendid vehicle 
for whatever he had to say. 

He was not satisfied with style ; he infused 
into hi? style a spirit which, for want of a better 
word, I can only call a spirit of irony of the 
most exquisite kind. He, as you know, 
adopted a style of diction which reminds us 
sometimes more of Addison's Spectator or 
Steele's Tatler than of the easier and more 
emotional language of these later days. But 



72 ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 

as he put into these dignified sentences this 
spirit which, for want of a better word, I must 
call irony, he relieved what otherwise might 
have been heavy. Now, I think you will all 
recognise what I mean when I speak of this 
spirit of irony. You will find it in, I think, 
every page of his works. I do not mean that 
of the savage and gruesome parable which has 
added a household word to the English 
language, and which is called " Dr. Jekyll and 
Mr. Hyde" or "Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll"; 
but I will take one instance from one of the 
works of his highest imagination, " The New 
Arabian Nights." He takes Rudolf out of 
"The Mysteries of Paris " and puts him down 
in London as a plump and respectable Prince 
of Bohemia, bent on adventure, but comfortably 
situated, hovering always between the sublime 
and the ridiculous, till the author at last makes 
up his mind for the ridiculous and settles him 
down in a cigar divan. But no one can read 
the account of Florizel, Prince of Bohemia, 
without recognising that essential quality of 
irony which makes Stevenson's style so potent. 
In some of his books he develops an even more 
bitter power of the same kind. In " The 




ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON MEMORIAL. 
St. Giles, Edinburgh. 

The following is the Inscription on Mitral Montiment: — 
" Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and 
gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to usour enemies, bless us 
if it may be in all our innocent endeavours, if it may not, give us the strength to 
encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, 
temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal 
and loving to one another. 

Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Born at VIII. Howard Place, Edinburgh, November XIII. MDCCCL., died at Vailima, 
Island of Upolu, Samoa, December III. mdcccxciv. This memorial is erected in his 
honour by readers in all quarters of the world who admire him as a master of English 
and Scottish letters, and to whom his constancy under infirmity and suffering, and his 
spirit of mirth, courage, and love, have endeared his name. 



Under the wide and starry sky 
Dig the grave and let me lie. 
Glad did I live, and gladly die, 

And I laid me down with a will. 
Augustus Saint ( "laudens. 

MDCCCLXXXVII— MDCCCCII. 



This be the verse you grave for me : 
Here he lies where he longed to be ; 
Home is the sailor, home from the sea, 
And the hunter home from the hill. 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 73 

Dynamiters " you will find that in a form some- 
times in which neither Swift nor Thackeray 
could have excelled. The picture of the schem- 
ing dynamiter, full of the high impulse of his 
mission, and constantly baffled by the cruel 
fate of circumstances in his efforts for an 
exhaustive explosion, is perhaps one of the 
most powerful instances of sardonic treatment 
to be met with in the whole history of English 
literature. 

Well, I cannot take instances of satire, because 
I should have to refer you to every page, but I 
will take the third point on which I wish to 
dwell for one moment this afternoon — it is 
the dramatic, realistic power of imagination, 
which, as I conceive, added to the style and the 
spirit of lambent irony which pervades Steven- 
son's works, is what has raised him a head and 
shoulders above his fellows. Now I suppose 
at this moment we can all conjure to our minds 
some scene in one of his books which strikes us 
as more powerful and more imaginative than 
the rest. There is a scene in "The Master of 
Ballantrae " which, powerful as it is, has never, 
I confess, been a favourite of mine, because the 
story is so unutterly repulsive from the beginning 



74 ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 

to the end — the conflict of a scoundrel against a 
maniac narrated by a coward. But in " The 
Master of Ballantrae " there is a scene which 
we see before us as vividly as I see your faces 
now, where the old steward comes out with a 
silver candle in each hand glaring into the 
still and silent night, ushering the brothers to 
their death struggle like a landlord handing 
illustrious guests to their apartments. He 
walks through the night, and he holds the lights 
while they fight, and you next see the dead 
body, or seemingly dead body, of the elder 
lying with the wax candles flickering on each 
side in the silent night, and then again the 
steward returns, the body is gone, one wax 
candle has fallen down, the other is upright, 
still flickering over the bloodshed. Can you 
not all see it as you read it in the page of 
Stevenson ? To me there seems nothing more 
vivid in all history. Take another scene. You 
remember the defence of the little pavilion on 
the links, the old cowardly caitiff shrinking from 
the result of his crimes, the clinging daughter, 
the brave brute who defends and despises the 
criminal, the unwelcome guest who chronicles 
it, and in the midst of that strange story of 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 75 

defence you remember the little Italian hat 
that comes skimming across the scene slowly — 
as vivid a touch as the footprints in " Robinson 
Crusoe." Let me give you one more instance, 
and only one more. It is in the masterpiece 
to applaud which old age and youth combine — 
I mean, of course, " Treasure Island." In 
"Treasure Island" there are two walking- 
sticks — sticks that I think that those who have 
read "Treasure Island" will never forget. 
There is the stick of the old blind man Pugh 
that comes rapping, rapping through the 
darkness like the rattle of the snake, a sure 
indication of the coming curse, and there is the 
crutch of Long John, at once a weapon and a 
defence, which I think will live in our memory 
as long as any incident. 

It is a folly, it is a presumption, to try and 
animadvert even on the works of this great 
genius in so cursory a manner, but the great- 
ness of his genius is urged against any proposal 
to commemorate it at this moment. We are 
told by those who are always critics and 
always objectors — and nothing in this world 
was ever done by critics and objectors — we 
are told by them that, after all, the works of 



76 ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 

Robert Louis Stevenson are his best memorials. 
In one sense that is undoubtedly true. No 
man of ancient or modern times since the 
beginning of the world has ever left behind 
him so splendid a collection of his works as has 
Robert Louis Stevenson — I mean not merely 
of what they contain, but the outward and 
visible form of them. But this objection, if it 
is worth anything, means this — that testimonials 
are to be confined to those who have done 
nothing to make themselves remembered. I 
know very well that the age is marching at 
such a pace in this direction that it will be a 
source of pride soon to man, woman, or child 
to say that they have never received a testi- 
monial. The minister as he enters and as he 
quits his manse is hallowed by such presents ; 
the faithful railway porter who has been for five 
years at his post is honoured in the same way. 
No man who has lived a blameless life for ten 
or for twenty years can well avoid the shadow 
of this persecution. But, for all that, it is not 
for the sake of Robert Louis Stevenson that I 
would put up this memorial ; it is for our own 
sake. I do not, at any rate, wish to belong to 
a generation of which it shall be said that they 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 77 

had this consummate being living and dying 
among them who did not recognise his splendour 
and his merit. I, at any rate, do not wish that 
some Burns shall hereafter come, as in the case 
of Ferguson, and with his own scanty means 
put up the memorial that Ferguson's own 
generation was unwilling to raise. 

Oh, but it is said, Why not wait ten, or 
twenty, or thirty years until time shall have 
hallowed and mellowed his reputation ? Ten, 
or twenty, or thirty years ! Who of us can 
afford to wait so long as that ? How many of 
us in this hall will be alive in ten, or twenty, 
or thirty years ? We cannot reckon on the 
morrow, and yet, forsooth, as a protection 
against our own sloth or our own parsimony, 
we are to relegate to a future generation, 
which shall then be the judge of the reputation 
of this great master — we are to leave it to 
a futu.e generation to do what we are 
reluctant to do ourselves. I, at any rate, 
am not willing to take any such course. I 
am not willing that another day, or another 
week, or another month should pass over our 
heads without having taken some steps in 
the direction in which I am urging. What 



78 ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 

form any such memorial should take I cannot 
for my part decide. Those who knew Steven- 
son himself would, I think, be entitled to have 
the first voice in the matter. There is one 
thing which no one has suggested, and that is 
an addition to our Edinburgh statues. It is a 
great thing that we should be able to walk 
about Edinburgh and see illustrious names on 
pedestals and something to commemorate them 
on these pedestals ; but I think you will agree 
with me, without any disrespect for some of 
the sculptors who have executed those statues, 
that if those restless spirits that possessed the 
Gadarene swine were to enter into the statues 
of Edinburgh, and if the whole stony and 
brazen troop were to hurry and hustle and 
huddle headlong down the steepest place near 
Edinburgh into the deepest part of the Firth 
of Forth, art would have sustained no serious 
loss. We might regret not a few of the effigies 
that we should have lost, but, on the whole, the 
city would not be the loser. I see, I think, a 
pained protest from the Lord Provost on my 
right. He is the custodian of our arts. It is 
not likely that the spirits of which I have 
spoken will carry out my proposal, and there- 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 79 

fore my opinion is a harmless one. But with 
regard to the memorial one point has struck me 
There are two places in the world where 
Stevenson might fitly be commemorated : one 
is Edinburgh and one is Samoa. I suppose 
that in Samoa some sort of memorial is sure to 
be raised. But, gathering as I do Stevenson's 
tastes only from a perusal of his works, there 
seem to me to have been two passions in his 
life-one for Scotland, and in Scotland for 
Edinburgh, and one for the sea. It seems to 
me that, if some memorial could be raised 
which should appeal to his passion both for 
Edinburgh and for the sea, we should have 
done the best thing in carrying out what might 
have been his wishes in such a connection 
But whether that be so or not, of one thing I 
am certain— that none of us here, if I may 
judge from the crowding of this hall and the 
attitude of this audience, are willing that the 
time shall pass without some adequate memorial 
being raised. That is, after all, the materially 
important point for which we are met— that we 
should not go down to posterity as a generation 
that was unaware of the treasure in our midst ■ 
and I trust that before long it will be our 



80 ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. 

happiness in Edinburgh to see some memorial 
of Robert Louis Stevenson which shall add to 
the historical interest of our city, and to the 
many shrines of learning and of genius by 
which it is adorned. 




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